Strategy in everyday life: My day with CSI

To educate and entertain my two young sons, I recently took them to our local science museum for an exhibit based on the popular television series, CSI. This exhibit was unlike others we have visited. When you enter, you are given an evidence card and watch a brief video from the star of the show. What struck me during this interview is a statement he made. Let me paraphrase it as I can't recall it as a quote. He said that dead victims are telling you what happened. The crime scene is telling you what happened. His advice? "Listen to the crime scene."

Gary Gagliardi's work in translating Sun Tzu's The Art of War has uncovered four steps to advance your competitive position. They are (1) Listen, (2) Aim, (3) Move, and (4) Claim. In addition, one of the leader’s characteristics is that of intelligence. Intelligence is related to learning the ground on which you are, or will, fight. In business the "ground" is your marketplace, in sales it's the customer, in politics it's your constituents.

In short, a good leader has the intelligence to listen and learn about the ground on which he or she will meet the enemy. In sports, this is called the "home court advantage." The advantage comes from having complete understanding and mastery of the location while the opponent has to learn it. If a bad guy broke into your home one night, you would have the advantage simply because you know the layout, where the kids toys are laying, and what's available to you. The bad guy would have to learn all of this while simultaneously defending himself. This creates a division of effort that weakens him.

Returning to the CSI exhibit, you can see why the idea of "listening" to the crime scene made an impression on me. As I investigated the scene, I looked for what was present and more importantly, what I thought should be present yet was not. It occurred to me that a crime scene was similar to war. It's all about deception. I took in the scene allowing it to influence me in the most obvious way. This would be what my enemy wants me to see and the interpretations he would want me to make. Sun Tzu says if you're tired, appear rested. If you're close, appear far away. He provides several examples of how we could or should deceive the enemy.

My crime scene was obviously telling me that the victim was killed in a car crash. After all, the car was crashed, the victim was in the driver’s seat, he was covered in blood with a head wound, and the windshield was cracked from the inside. I took in the evidence as it obviously looked and then began to question each piece assuming it was deception. As I uncovered more evidence, the "ground" was indeed speaking to me if would only listen. The killer was talking to me through his manipulation of the scene (ground). I imagined the killer walking me through the scene, telling me to look here and there. He was pointing out all the obvious reasons to assume this was just an accident. I then had the victim tell me what to look at. Then my imaginary contrarian partner told me what to look at. By listening to all of my advisors, I had a very complete understanding of the scene (ground). I felt confident I could make choices about what to investigate further and what to ignore (aiming). I took my list to the "lab" and began to run my tests (move). When done, I made an accusation in my "crime report" (claim).

I am no CSI expert but by using my training from The Science of Strategy Institute, I felt confident to listen (learn about the crime scene), aim (select what to focus on), move (investigate the evidence), and claim (accuse the probable killer) in order to solve the crime.